Sensation and the Human Element by Christopher K. Coffman

All of the flowers that had been inside her torso, set free from their confines, spilled on the ground. Bright red petals fluttered across the broken glass and twisted metal, before amassing in puddles of multi-hued lubricants. In the sunlight, she stared, surprised for a moment at the crumbling blossoms, the crushed car, the glittering fluids, before leaving us with the scent of roses and the sound of wooden soles clacking.

After that day she greeted each morning with vacant features. Sometimes, kneeling by the basin, contorted with retching spasms, she watched a dark, viscous pool grow. On other days nothing came out except for a sound as of escaping air. She tried to staunch the flow, but nothing could not be pushed back by slippery fingers.

In the operating room, the entwined lines of the “Quaerendo invenietis” from Bach’s The Musical Offering flowed from her scalpel’s edge. Her mind ran backwards and forwards, chasing the notes. After removing the crab, two golf balls, and a battered copy of Breton’s Nadja, she stitched the incision, crossing one way, then the next. Not even the faintest hum of the machine could be heard when he was finished. A nurse took the tools away, for sterilization.

Later, petals dripped from a kitchen knife’s accidental revenge on the fingers of her left hand. They were scattering across the tiles, dropping into the salad bowl, and staining the marble. Where each landed, a wriggling worm grew, then sprouted wings. Soon, a swarm of butterflies pattered at the window. As the flow slowed, she reached out for the smallest of all the creatures, lifting it carefully from the air, and placed its fluttering form in her mouth. For a moment, it hung on a lip. Then she lifted her head and swallowed. Her throat moved rhythmically, her eyes seeking again the light of the stars.

Christopher K. Coffman is a member of the faculty at Boston University. He lives in Brookline, MA, with his wife, sons, cat, and dog. The author of Rewriting Early America: The Prenational Past in Postmodern Literature, Coffman has also co-edited three volumes, including William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion and After Postmodernism: The New American Fiction. His most recently published short story appeared in the Winter–Spring 2021 issue of Gobshite Quarterly